Bar Tab: Sabina Sabe, Oaxaca

High on the wall of the main bar at Sabina Sabe is a picture of a sad clown. He is sitting at a table in an empty bar and staring disconsolately at a glass. In other surroundings, this artistic choice could set a sombre, even creepy tone, but fortunately from the bright turquoise exterior wall to the thumbs up from a punter who was determined to feature in my photo of the back bar, everything else about a recent Sunday evening visit to this central Oaxacan favourite shouted joy. And why not? With vast amounts of mezcal covering nearly every available surface – really only the vibrant talavera-tiled floor escapes – the congregants of this shrine to agave have a lot to be happy about. The local spirt unsurprisingly provides the backbone of the cocktail menu, with the Ancho Reyes enhanced Jamaicón (with Rey Campero Espadin, spice mix and lime) and Cilantriño (Rey Campero, coriander, cinnamon and allspice) the stand-outs while the Limonada Especiada (gin, ginger beer, pineapple syrup and cardamom) shows the bar staff can work with more than just agave. Elsewhere, the menu takes a turn for the bitter, offering a vermouth and tonic, several spritzes and some Negroni variants. The clientele in the difficult slot betwixt a very lazy brunch and an early dinner are mostly tourists lingering over a second round and wondering if it’s too early to start ordering from the menu of Oaxacan food dishes.  This is a town that doesn’t let anything get in the way of a high quality pastry, snack or meal, after all. In the second room – all bare brick, metal chairs and painted tiles, English voices abound, with one – on departure – concluding, “mate, that cocktail was fucking banging”. Maybe that’s why the clown looked so upset and even the resident barfly resisted raising a thumb. (5 de Mayo 209, Ruta Independencia, Centro, Oaxaca, 68000. @sabinasabeoaxaca). Read more Bar Tabs here.